I was never one of the cool kids. Quiet, reserved, and bookish from a young age, I had close friends growing up, but wasn’t popular. This pattern continued through college, where I spent time with best friends but was never the center of attention or part of the in-crowd. The lack of distraction paid off when I graduated a year early, the result of years of summer school and academically demanding semesters. Decidedly uncool … but completely worth it.
Could being uncool in the early stages of life actually point toward a brighter future?
Recent studies show that dating, usually one of the hallmarks of popularity, is destructive at a young age. Students who date in middle school are four times more likely to drop out of school and report twice as much alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use as their single classmates, according to new research from the University of Georgia.
The study, which followed a group of 624 students from sixth to 12th grade, reveals that students who dated the least had the best study skills, while those who dated the most had the worst study skills.
Unpopularity can be discouraging, but it can be freeing, too. The uncool kids are often the ones who excel academically — and sometimes they’re also the ones motivated enough to pursue their dreams.
To see the ultimate uncool kid-turned-superstar, take a look at Taylor Swift. The 23-year-old has accrued seven Grammys so far and sold more than 26 million albums. But when she first picked up a guitar, Swift was definitely not cool.
“Junior high was actually sort of hard because I got dumped by this group of popular girls,” Swift told Teen Vogue in a 2009 interview. “The kids at school thought it was weird that I liked country [music]. They’d make fun of me.”
While it must have been wretched at the time, enduring the mocking from her classmates actually helped Swift in the long run.
“Really, if I hadn’t come home from school miserable every day, maybe I wouldn’t have been so motivated to write songs,” she said. “I should probably thank them!”
Demi Lovato, whose single “Give Your Heart A Break” recently enjoyed 32 weeks on the Hot 100, is another music star who struggled with unpopularity.
“I had a really tough time when I was in middle school,” Lovato told People magazine last year. “People would write ‘hate petitions’ [about me] and send them around to be signed. They’d have CD-bashing parties of my demos … It was a very emotional time for me, and all I wanted to do was get away.”
Bullying took a toll on Lovato; the Disney darling secretly struggled with bulimia and self-abuse until she spent time in rehab in 2010. Lovato came back strong with her third album, Unbroken, which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and spawned top 20 singles “Skyscraper” and “Give Your Heart a Break.” She’s now enjoying a successful run as a judge on Fox’s The X Factor and promoting her as-yet-untitled fourth record, slated to be released later this year. Not bad for the girl who was the bottom of the food chain in sixth grade.
The examples of uncool kids who later succeeded don’t just include People magazine celebrities. Thomas Edison dropped out of school after a few months and was homeschooled by his mom. As a homeschooler, Edison would probably not be considered cool. Good thing he invented the light bulb to make up for it. As portrayed in 2010’s The Social Network, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is a lonely nerd who spends too much time in his dorm on his computer. Not cool. Until he became the world’s youngest billionaire.
Being uncool at a young age can help lead to better things later. It’s a principle that’s noteworthy not just for examples that confirm it, but also for the lack of examples supporting the reverse. When was the last time a prom queen or a star quarterback became a renowned innovator, performer or author? How many politicians or celebrities talk about how much they loved high school?
Maybe the misfits have it best after all. They are the dreamers, the thinkers, the ones who stray from the beaten path and are rewarded for it.
Being uncool worked in my case. Studying took priority over socializing in college, and many of my Saturdays during senior year were spent in my dorm doing homework, writing papers and reviewing for tests. But if I hadn’t pushed myself to graduate early, I would still be studying for finals. Instead, I have nearly a year’s worth of work experience and crazy adventures under my belt. One path isn’t necessarily better than the other, but the hard work and sacrifices were definitely worth it for me.